Making “Buddhist” into “Indian”: Securing Sikkim’s Loyalty to Independent India, 194775

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:40 AM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago)
Swati Chawla, University of Virginia
This paper analyzes Indian policy towards the neighboring Himalayan state of Sikkim from the time of independence (1947) to its incorporation into the Indian Union (1975). In the backdrop of decolonization in Asia and Africa on the one hand, and the spread of Communism in the region on the other, the Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim sought to re-negotiate British-era treaties with independent India by asserting its sovereign status and resisting India’s control over its defense and foreign policy, while courting China and other countries as an independent state. India was fully cognizant of the strategic importance of Sikkim in the wake of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s escape into India (1959) and the Sino-Indian War (1962).

The paper shows how the Indian state attempted to maintain its political, cultural, and economic influence in Sikkim through “perception management” programs on state radio and print media, doling out strategic aid towards development projects, sponsoring the celebration of national holidays such as Gandhi’s birth centenary, and deputing high-ranking Indian personnel to influential positions in the monarch’s administration. Most importantly, by asserting that Buddhism was in fact an offshoot of Hinduism, the Indian state sought to reinscribe Sikkimese culture in its own image, and weaken the monarchy’s nationalistic claims. However, as the recent standoff in Doklam shows, despite Sikkim’s incorporation into the Indian Union in 1975, the Himalayan borderlands of Asia remain rife with competing claims over the loyalty of the smaller states and their subjects.